Can't We Just Be Who We Are? The Experiences, Identity, and Beliefs of Adolescents with Disabilities Who Identify as a Sexual or Gender Minority
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The purpose of this study was to gain an in-depth understanding of the lived experiences of adolescents with disabilities who identify as a sexual or gender minority within four ecological domains of self, school, family, and community and of how those experiences shape identity, sense of self, and beliefs about the future. Using in-depth semi-structured interviews, this research was conducted with an intersectionality framework that examined how the intersection of markers of difference inform individual reality and lived experiences for young adults with disabilities who identify as a sexual or gender minority. The sample included eight adolescents in high school across the state of Oregon who had a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Program and identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or queer. A multiple-phase data analysis led to in-depth descriptions of each individual's experiences as well as consistent cross-case themes. Key themes in the individual context included: identity development, positive beliefs about identity, navigation of identity labels, strategies for facing discrimination, and relationships. Experiences in the home context that shaped identity focused on the key areas of support, rejection, and religion. Concerning the school social context, the themes that emerged were the overlap of queerness and disability in the schools, Gay Straight Alliances and extracurricular clubs, and desired staff characteristics for an adult ally in school. No consistent themes were identified in the community domain. These findings contributed to the participants' descriptions of their beliefs about the future, focusing on independent living, postsecondary education, and employment. Analysis extends the limited research available for this subgroup, shedding a light on the importance of inclusive research. In addition, findings support implications for changes in how we work with students with disabilities who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning, queer, transgender, or intersex as well as how we train and support our teachers to work with all students and engage in anti-discriminatory practices.